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It can’t happen here, until it does

[ 141 ] July 9, 2015 |

perlstein

trump

One of the most compelling points Rick Perlstein makes in his excellent The Invisible Bridge is that Ronald Reagan was consistently and radically underestimated as a potential political force by the national media, public intellectuals, DC insiders, etc., until practically up to the moment he was on the edge of winning the GOP nomination in 1976.

This makes me at least begin to wonder if something similar might not be happening with Donald Trump. Now obviously there are enormous differences between the backgrounds, the careers, and the personalities of the two men, but there are also some striking similarities:

(1) Both mastered the art of manipulating their contemporary media environments.

(2) Both manifested a fine understanding of how to make outrageous statements in a way that ingratiated them with their political bases, precisely because the national media reaction to those statements allowed them to pose as victims of supposed media and/or elite bias.

(3) Both spent a good part of their lives as at least putatively wishy-washy Democrats, before discovering that selling racial demagoguery to the contemporary Republican party base was about as hard as selling beer at a baseball game on a 90-degree day.

(4) Both spent most of their careers being dismissed as clownish lightweights.

In a GOP presidential field that isn’t exactly stacked with political talent, the notion that Trump can’t win the nomination is at least premature. As is the idea that he can’t be elected president.

The Cesar Cedeno All-Stars

[ 180 ] July 8, 2015 |

cc

In honor of the impending Midsummer Classic(tm) this post seeks nominations for the Cesar Cedeno All-Stars. To qualify for the CCAS, a player has to have had such a great start to his career that he had one foot in the Hall of Fame well before the age of 30, but then had the rest of his career be a major disappointment, to the point where he wasn’t even considered a marginal HOF candidate by the time his name appeared on the ballot.

Cesar Cedeno piled up 40 Wins Above Replacement by the age of 26, and was probably the best player in baseball in the early 1970s, although this was obscured by the fact he played for a bad team in a horrible hitter’s park while wearing a hideous uniform that looked like it was designed as a joke by the least sartorially gifted of the Gibb Brothers after a night of doing lines at Studio 54.

After that he played another decade, and for no apparent reason had only one season where he was worth anything.

I’m going to throw three more nominees out there before opening the floor to the teeming millions.

Vada Pinson

40.2 of his 54.1 WAR was racked up through age 26.

Dave Parker

One of the most talented players in history. Pretty clear what happened here.

Will Clark

Maybe not an ideal case as he remained a reasonably valuable player for a long time after his mid-20s, but he was clearly a superstar for about four years and then suddenly he was just an ordinary player.

Movie scene bleg

[ 25 ] July 1, 2015 |

Help out here all-knowing LGM collective consciousness.

I have a vague memory of a fairly recent film (like in the last 10-12 years) in which police interrogators try to intimidate a suspect they’re interviewing by pulling their guns and laying them on the table in front of the witnesssuspect. I think this might have been a Ben Affleck movie (The Town?) (Gone Baby Gone?).

Does this ring a bell? Also, extra kudos to anyone who can find a Youtube clip.

. . . actually I’m interested in any film (or TV show episode) that features this scenario, not just the one I sort of remember.

Comparisons between Loving v. Virginia and the gay marriage cases aren’t apt

[ 33 ] June 26, 2015 |

I discuss the differences, which are more significant than the similarities.

Remarkably, a majority of Americans, and a huge majority of white Americans, continued to say they were opposed interracial marriage until the late 1990s, 30 years after Loving v. Virginia. (I suspect the number of people willing to say they’re opposed is actually a good deal smaller than the number who are actually opposed). The situation with gay marriage is quite different:

First, contrary to claims of cultural conservatives, the Supreme Court’s ruling today can’t be characterized as the imposition of elite political preferences on the nation as a whole. The solid majority of the nation as a whole supports gay marriage, and it seems likely that within a very few years, opposition to the institution will be as marginal a position as (at least open) opposition to interracial marriage is today.

Second, the history of opposition to interracial marriage indicates that a Supreme Court decision by itself will often do little or nothing to sway public opinion in regard to this sort of issue. In 1967, the Supreme Court of the day threw down a legal gauntlet to one of the most powerful – and, as it would develop – intractable symbols of institutionalized racism in America. That decision seems to have had almost no effect on public opinion, which changed very slowly, and largely if not wholly for other reasons.

By contrast, today the Supreme Court is merely putting its stamp of approval on a political movement that was already winning the battle in the court of public opinion. And that stamp will probably have little effect on the cultural processes that determine how quickly gay marriage receives something closer to universal public acceptance

Thoughts on the Lions winning the Super Bowl

[ 38 ] June 25, 2015 |

LB

You read it here first.

The most underrated baseball player ever?

[ 77 ] June 22, 2015 |

sweet lou

Which one of these guys has the highest career Wins Above Replacement total?

Derek Jeter
Reggie Jackson
Gary Carter
Frank Thomas
Eddie Murray
Lou Whitaker
Tony Gwynn
Ryne Sandberg
Carlton Fisk
Roberto Alomar

If you’re a baseball fan, you can easily guess the answer based on the title of this post.

Lou Whitaker has the 18th-highest career WAR among all position players whose careers are encompassed by the last half century of MLB (A category that includes almost half of all MLB players ever. As for active players who are likely to pass him, the only two with a good shot are Miguel Cabrera and the ridiculous Mike Trout).

Here are the 17 players ahead of him, in no particular order:

Bench
Molitor
Ozzie Smith
Yount
Beltre
Bagwell
Carew
Griffey Jr.
Chipper Jones
Brett
Boggs
Ripken
Pujols
Schmidt
Henderson
Rodriguez
Bonds

Every one of these players who is eligible is already in the Hall of Fame, except for Bonds and Bagwell. Bonds is of course being informally banned for taking steroids, and Bagwell seems to be getting the same treatment, although AFAIK nobody will come out and say it, given that the evidence against him is purely conjectural.

Meanwhile, Whitaker got 2.9% of the vote in his first year of eligibility, meaning he didn’t even stick on to the ballot for another year.

This was par for the course for him. Sweet Lou won the Rookie of the Year award in 1978, but was almost completely ignored in award voting after that. Amazingly, he appeared on anyone’s MVP ballot only once in 19 major league seasons, in 1983 when he finished 8th in the voting (In a typical year, about 25 players will appear on at least one voter’s ballot, since voters can rank up to ten players). He did make four all-star teams, which is far fewer than everybody on the two lists above, except for the strange case of Robin Yount, who made only three all-star teams despite winning two MVP awards.

Now to be fair, framing the case in terms of career WAR makes the strongest argument for Whitaker’s nomination as the most under-rated MLB player ever. The causes of Whitaker’s relative obscurity among great players are several:

(1) He was a terrific all-around player, as opposed to doing one thing — such as hitting for a high average, or hitting lots of home runs, or winning the gold glove every year — that tends to catch fans’ and voters’ attention. All-around players are, all other things being equal, invariably under-rated relative to specialists.

(2) He didn’t play in one of the giant media markets.

(3) He had lots of excellent years, but never one career year of obvious MVP quality.

(4) He was a quiet guy, rather than a rah-rah type. He also developed a bit of a reputation for being somewhat spacy (he once forgot his uniform when he went to an all-star game, and had to play in a makeshift jersey that had his number drawn on it with what looked like some sort of magic marker).

Here, the comparison with Alan Trammell is revealing. Whitaker and Trammell were by far the longest-lasting double play combination in MLB history. They were also remarkably similar players. Points (1) and (2) above apply to Trammell equally well. Point (3) doesn’t, as Trammell had an obvious MVP-quality season in 1987, but finished second to George Bell, back in the days when sportswriters didn’t realize there were more than three statistics by which to evaluate a player. Point (4) also doesn’t apply at all, and I remember Bill James argued on a couple of occasions that the relative attention given to Trammell over Whitaker, given their almost uncanny similarity as players, was in large part race-based. (Trammell has gotten double-digit support on the HOF ballot for all 14 seasons that he’s been eligible, topping out at 33% of the vote a couple of years ago.)

Anyway, the argument for Whitaker as the most under-rated MLB player ever, at least in terms of overall career value, is very strong.

Is it a good idea to try to shame conservative/white/southern Americans about the history and persistence of endemic racism?

[ 174 ] June 20, 2015 |

stars and bars

Rick Hills argues that it isn’t:

It is completely predictable in our polarized nation that there are two competing narratives about the Charleston Church massacre. One narrative is that the actions of Dylann Roof, the young murderer, reflects and is inspired by a toxic and pervasive brew of wistfully nostalgic white supremacy and racist paranoia that swills around the internet and spills out into the open in Freudian slips and occasional acts of terror . . .

The second narrative, mostly from conservative sources, is that pervasive contemporary racism had nothing to do with the Charleston massacre. . . .The less implausible version of this narrative is that Dylann Roof was indeed a vicious racist but that his racism is an atavistic expression of a long-extinct ideology rather than a reflection of widespread contemporary attitudes and fears.

Hills finds the first narrative compelling, and the second so implausible that he assumes its mass media manifestations via Fox and the WSJ editorial page are products of intellectually dishonest ideological marketing campaigns, rather than sincerely-held views. But then he comes to a surprising conclusion:

Nonetheless, if I were to judge these competing narratives by their utility rather than their honesty, I confess that I prefer the Fox News spin. My reason, elaborated after the jump, is that Fox News’ approach has a prayer of creating a cross-racial rural coalition rooted in church and guns. By contrast, Stewart’s Naming & Shaming strategy seems not only futile but dangerous to me: Convince “mainstream” Southerners that their condemnation of racist violence is inconsistent with their embrace of Stonewall Jackson and the Confederate flag, and you might find that they dump the former rather than the latter. . .

[Jon] Stewart’s Naming & Shaming strategy invites the scolded listener to consider whether this general bundle of cultural loyalties (for instance, an affinity for Confederate flags) is causally associated a tendency towards racist violence. It seems to me intuitively obvious that there is such a link. Such a Naming and Shaming strategy, however, poses the risk that, rather than jettison their general cultural commitments to Southerness, the target audience will instead circle the wagons. Maybe it is just my paranoia, but it is not obvious to me which horn of the dilemma white South Carolinians would choose if they were convinced that there was an inconsistency between their general celebration of “Southern-ness” and their condemnation of a racist church-shooting.

The Fox News strategy, for all of its intellectual dishonesty, has the single virtue of reenforcing the aversion to racist violence by tying that aversion to the target audience’s other cultural commitments. “If you love the NRA and attend church regularly,” the Fox News interview implies, “then you should rise up to demonstrate against the anti-Christian Dylann Roof and arm Black churchgoers against others of his ilk.” Painting white supremacists as anti-Christian rather than pro-Confederate, in other words, seems like a smarter way to peel off Southern support for the frequenters of Stormfront.org and similar venues. Likewise, painting black churchgoers as potentially pro-gun seems to me to be a smarter way to ground a cross-racial rural coalition than insisting that white Southerners tear down their statues of Robert E. Lee, re-name their streets that now commemorate Confederate generals, and lower the Stars and Bars.

It’s an interesting argument. Leaving aside for the moment whether Hills’ pragmatic calculus happens to be correct in this particular case, it’s worth considering the extent to which an ongoing culture war over things like the symbolic politics of flying the Stars and Bars over the South Carolina capitol building, or demands that national politicians apologize for slavery, etc., actually serve progressive political interests. I’m not posing that question rhetorically, but merely flagging Hills’ argument as an example of the fact that it’s a real question.

Are poor and middle class people unable to afford lawyers because law graduates have too much debt?

[ 46 ] June 17, 2015 |

atticus finch

The thesis that non-rich people would have more access to legal representation if law school graduates didn’t have so much debt is put forth regularly by critics of the American legal system. Today’s New York Times features a representative example of this line of argument, from Theresa Amato:

To create the entire sector of sustainable, affordable legal service providers that the legal profession needs will take much more entrepreneurship. There’s no shortage of lawyers to bridge the justice gap. For the last four years, less than 60 percent of law-school graduates have found full-time jobs requiring a bar qualification.

The problem is twofold. First, school fees have consistently outpaced inflation over the last 30 years, and on average, 86 percent of law students graduate with six-figure debt. Without help, the drag of this debt makes it near-impossible for willing graduates to take lower-paying legal services jobs.

Second, even for those graduates who are able to serve those who lack affordable legal representation, the jobs are few and much fought-for — despite the often less than chic locales. Recent graduates rarely have the training or resources to create jobs for themselves.

I would like this argument to be true, since it would provide yet one more reason to argue against what has become the absurdly high cost of legal education in this country, but unfortunately it doesn’t make much sense.

The claim that otherwise willing graduates don’t take public interest jobs because of high debt loads is no doubt true in some individual cases. But from a structural perspective, this would only be relevant to the availability of low-cost and/or subsidized legal services if public interest lawyer jobs had become difficult to fill as a result. But as Amato herself acknowledges, the competition for such jobs is usually quite fierce. (As for the claim that new graduates don’t have the training to set up shop for themselves, this is true, but again irrelevant to the more fundamental problem, which is the dearth of clients who can actually pay for the price of legal services — a price that isn’t related to the relative debt levels of the lawyers who provide them).

This competition is a result of at least three factors:

(1) “Cause” lawyers, such as Amato herself, are obviously not entering the legal profession for the money. Salaries for public interest lawyers, and indeed for many government lawyers, are generally very low, relative to the cost in time and money of a legal education (In the two cities — Denver and New York — in which I’m familiar with the relative pay structure of district attorney and public defender offices on the one hand, and police officers on the other, it’s clear that the average cop makes more than the average DA or PD). Debt to salary ratios are just another factor that people who are clearly getting what economists call large non-pecuniary benefits from their jobs will tend to ignore.

(2) The federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is, relatively speaking, a huge economic benefit to public interest and government lawyers. PSLF limits the debt service obligation of such lawyers, in regard to federal loans (at this point almost all law school loans are federal), to 10% of that portion of the debtor’s AGI that is 150% above the poverty line. After ten years of payments, the principal debt and all accumulated interest is forgiven, and the forgiven sum isn’t considered taxable income. Of course this benefit structure makes competition for PSLF-eligible jobs even more intense.

(3) Only around 55% of current law graduates are getting legal jobs of any kind. This means there are literally thousands of new law graduates every year who would gladly take even the lowest-paying public interest jobs.

In sum, poor, working class, and even many middle class people can’t afford lawyers, because with the partial exception of the criminal defense system, legal services in the United States are basically unsubsidized. People with little or no discretionary income can’t spend that non-existent income on legal services, which in comparison to food, shelter, transportation, health care, and some other things, will continue to be considered luxuries. Lawyers who aren’t independently wealthy can’t work for free, or for (what amounts to the same thing) wages that don’t allow them to do much more than cover the operating costs of practicing law. And levels of law school debt — sunk costs, in other words — have almost nothing to do with this dynamic.

Craigslist post combines a number of LGM interests

[ 14 ] June 13, 2015 |

cc

Quantities are limited

I will do your divorce for Blackhawks SCF Game 6 Tix

If you’ve been waiting to pull the trigger on a divorce I’m happy to help you with the filing and make sure everything is on the up and up. All I ask in exchange is that we attend game 6 together to discuss the details. From there I will handle everything else.

Lower level seats are going for in excess of $2500 apiece. A messy divorce could cost you millions. This is an amazing chance at an excellent value.

Contact me via email and let me know where your seats are. I’d consider any other kind of legal work you need done.*

Dave

*Willing to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership for a small additional fee

I would like to point out that I am the founder of sabermetrics

[ 80 ] June 10, 2015 |

bill james

When I was in college in the 1980s, i.e., before anyone had even heard of the statistical analysis of baseball, Sports Illustrated printed a letter of mine in which I pointed out that the common belief that Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth’s home run record because, unlike Willie Mays, he got a big boost from his home parks, wasn’t supported by the statistics. These showed that Aaron actually hit a lower percentage of his home runs at home than Mays did (Although Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta was a hitter’s park, Milwaukee, where Aaron played in his prime years, wasn’t).

Reason: Let’s talk about the state of contemporary feminism. You have been in a public life or in an intellectual life since the late 1960s, a proud feminist, often reviled by other feminists. . .

Camille Paglia: Feminism has gone through many phases. Obviously the woman’s suffrage movement of the 19th century fizzled after women gained the right to vote through the constitutional amendment in 1920. Then the movement revived in the 1960s through Betty Freidan co-founding [the National Organization for Women] in 1967. I preceded all that. I’m on record with a letter in Newsweek—I was in high school in 1963—where I called for equal rights for American women.

The whole interview is like that.

[SL]: While Paglia assuredly invented feminism, literary criticism, profiling public figures using quarter-assed pop psychology, contrarianism, and self-promotion, we must remember that she didn’t invent same-sex marriage. That was Michael Kinsley.

NYU and the art of the gouge

[ 113 ] June 9, 2015 |

manhattan

I have a piece on a protest being launched by more than 400 NYU faculty members to the so-called Sexton Plan, aka John Sexton’s ongoing transformation of NYU into a kind of real estate hedge fund backed by federal educational loans:

Prostitution comes in many forms. Consider the story of a New York University student, who finds that her school — the most expensive in the country — has raised prices yet again, and that she needs $2,000 she doesn’t have to remain enrolled. She visits the financial aid office, where an administrator literally laughs in her face. “He couldn’t believe,” she says, “that anyone would have trouble raising such a small amount.”

Desperate, she turns to Seeking Arrangement, an Internet site where rich, often married, older men search for young women who are willing to “date” them in exchange for various gifts. The NYU student felt she had no choice in the matter: “It was either that, or drop out” she says. She soon discovers she’s not alone: “It was a hard choice; and I’m not the only one who had to make it. When I finally got the nerve to tell my roommates I’d been doing it, they told me they’d been doing it too.”

This cautionary tale from the new Gilded Age is just one of several similarly disturbing stories from “The Art of the Gouge,” a 14,000-word report published by a group of more than 400 NYU faculty members. They are fed up with seeing a distinguished research university transformed into a multi-billion dollar student loan-funded vehicle for real estate speculation — one used by top administrators to pay themselves seven-figure salaries, as well as other lavish perks.

The faculty’s protests are focused on the so-called Sexton Plan. NYU’s president John Sexton is pushing to expand the university’s already-extensive investments in Manhattan real estate by spending mind-boggling sums on yet more Greenwich Village projects, including $1 billion on a single new building.

Of course NYU is just somewhat ahead of the curve, as the MMB consultants would put it:

Now in a sense it’s unfair to single out NYU, since the school under Sexton has merely been engaging in a somewhat more extreme version of the incredibly expensive pursuit of ever-more revenue that has consumed so much of contemporary American higher education.

For example, Yale’s tax filings have just revealed that the school gave departing president Richard Levin an $8.5 million going-away present when he retired in 2013. The lump sum payment — given to an administrator who had been drawing a salary of more than $1 million per year — was defended on the basis of the claim that, comparatively speaking, Levin had been working for Yale practically for free: “He could have been in investment banking, he could have been in venture capital, he could have run a corporation,” claimed former Proctor & Gamble CEO and Disney chairman John Pepper, who was part of the managing board that approved the payment. “Obviously, if he’d gone into other fields, the compensation would be orders of magnitude greater.”

This is all part and parcel of the increasing corporatization of the American university: Just as in the case of grotesquely overcompensated CEOs, we must pay university administrators millions, because the logic of “the market” dictates that it’s necessary to do so to compete for supposedly scarce talent.

The consequences of all this for the American university are far-reaching:

The invidious effects of this money-mad system are legion. A relatively trivial one is reflected in Pepper’s rationalization for Levin’s compensation: because university presidents spend all day and half the night sucking up to billionaires, they feel poor when they get paid a lousy $1 million per year.

A far more serious problem is the unspoken, and even to some extent unconscious, incentives and distortions created by a system in which university budgets become increasingly dependent on the continuing generosity of the wealthiest Americans. Those incentives rarely come in the form of an explicit quid pro quo. But one doesn’t have to be a young woman in desperate financial straits to realize that rich old men generally expect to get something for their money.

In this regard, the contemporary university increasingly finds itself “seeking arrangements,” as it were, that inevitably lead it into various compromising political, ethical, and intellectual positions.

Secrets

[ 41 ] June 5, 2015 |

impeachment

According to this ABC story, Dennis Hastert sexually abused Steve Reinbolt, the manager of the high school wrestling team Hastert coached, throughout the four years Reinbolt was a student at Yorkville High School, where Hastert taught between 1965 and 1981. Reinbolt graduated in 1971 and was born in August of 1953, so apparently the abuse started when he was 14.

Reinbolt died in 1995, so he is not “Individual A” in the indictment against Hastert.

Hastert, who by that point had been in the House for eight years, showed up at Reinbolt’s funeral. Reinbolt’s sister Jolene confronted him immediately after the service, and Hastert’s reaction left no doubt in her mind that the story Steve told her back in 1979, about how his first sexual encounter had been with Hastert when he was a high school freshman (this would be at a minimum statutory rape under Illinois law), was in fact true.

Jolene tried to expose Hastert in 2006, at the time of the Foley scandal. She approached ABC with the story, but ABC didn’t run it, because according to the network it couldn’t be corroborated at the time. This should raise some questions about how much, if any, further investigation ABC did, given that it’s extremely likely that Hastert victimized more than two of his students.

I can only imagine what Jolene (her last name isn’t given in the ABC story) went through in 1998, when Hastert was chosen to lead the impeachment of Bill Clinton. That she seemed to believe — probably correctly, given how all this subsequently played out — that she was powerless to do anything about that travesty at the time is a telling commentary on how powerless ordinary citizens feel before the majesty of the law, and the arrogant invulnerability of the good and the great.

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