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How complicated is this really?

[ 106 ] May 12, 2012 |


(1) Re-electing Barack Obama (and not electing Willard Romney) is a very important goal for people who wish to advance the cause(s) of progressive politics in this country at this time.

(2) Helping build a political and social culture which makes it possible to elect presidents who are far more progressive than Barack Obama is also a very important goal for people who wish to advance that cause.

It doesn’t help the cause of progressive politics, in either the short or long term, to claim the difference between Obama’s Democratic party and Romney’s GOP isn’t significant. For pragmatic reasons it may help this cause, in the short term, to exaggerate that difference, which, while significant, is not nearly as significant as the difference between the contemporary GOP and even the most mildly social democratic political party in existence, as that term is understood in the rest of the developed world. Whether this sort of exaggeration helps that cause in the long run, however, is a more difficult question.


Hijinks and pranks

[ 98 ] May 10, 2012 |

Isn’t that what Abu Ghraib was all about?

In 1965, an effeminate student named John Lauber showed up with “bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye.”

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

Romney was a high school senior; he turned 18 in the spring when this happened. Horowitz has the story cold, and Romney isn’t even trying to deny it. Phil Rucker, the Post’s Romney beat reporter, has tweeted out the governor’s measured response.

Back in high school, I did some dumb things & if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologize. I participated in a lot of hijinks and pranks during high school and some might have gone too far and for that, I apologize. I certainly don’t believe that I thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from our minds back in the 1960s


Is it Haines? If he makes any noise here I’ll bring down Seymour and we’ll give him a ragging worse than they gave Clive Kempthorpe.

Young shouts of moneyed voices in Clive Kempthorpe’s rooms. Palefaces: they hold their ribs with laughter, one clasping another, O, I shall expire! Break the news to her gently, Aubrey! I shall die! With slit ribbons of his shirt whipping the air he hops and hobbles round the table, with trousers down at heels, chased by Ades of Magdalen with the tailor’s shears. A scared calf’s face gilded with marmalade. I don’t want to be debagged! Don’t you play the giddy ox with me!

Full story here.

The legal one per cent

[ 24 ] May 10, 2012 |

A particularly well-informed and perceptive law professor points out that many law faculty have tended to live in a kind of bubble that, for ethnographic reasons, makes it difficult for them to assimilate information about changes in the legal profession. Noting that a study of 1990 UVA law grads found on the whole (subject to some striking gender effects) high degrees of career satisfaction and income, she remarks: Read more…

Is Barack Osama taking too much credit for the assassination of Obama bin Laden?

[ 69 ] May 7, 2012 |

That is the difficult question with which former Attorney General Michael Mukasey grapples in the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal. Surprisingly, he concludes that the answer is “yes.”

His evidence for this proposition is a bit scanty. For example, he makes the extremely implausible claim that “the operation contained a responsibility-escape clause:”

A recently disclosed memorandum from then-CIA Director Leon Panetta shows that the president’s celebrated derring-do in authorizing the operation included a responsibility-escape clause: “The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out.”

Which is to say, if the mission went wrong, the fault would be Adm. McRaven’s, not the president’s.

This seems like a willful misreading of the purpose of such a clause. Surely Mukasey is not so naive is to believe that a clause of this sort would have the slightest political value (quite the contrary) if the president were to cite it after the fact in an attempt to mitigate his own responsibility in the wake of a failed mission? Indeed even imagining such a thing seems like some sort of right-wing fever dream regarding the supposed tendency of “the left” (sic) to engage in preposterous legalistic arguments for political purposes. How could anyone bad enough at politics to try something like that get elected president in the first place anyway? (Besides through the devious workings of the liberal media conspiracy and the Illuminati of course).

Mukasey then goes on to cite the example of Dwight Eisenhower, who composed a famous letter in anticipation of the potential failure of the D-Day operation:

Our landings in the Cherbourg-Harve area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.

One is tempted — indeed I am tempted — to point out that in June 1944, Eisenhower was not the politician who ordered the attack, but rather the military commander who had been put directly in charge of the operation whose failure prudence required him to anticipate.


[ 62 ] May 7, 2012 |


Could the Los Angeles Angels trade Albert Pujols away for literally nothing in return? (I’m assuming that all of this contract is guaranteed).

I’m pretty sure the answer is no, which I suppose means that in the strange world of baseball economics Pujols is now less than worthless. (MPowell points out in comments that in the wonderful world of the efficient market, Pujols’ contract *should* be “worthless” in this sense on the day he signs it. A more useful version of this question would be something like “how much of his contract would the LAA have to eat to get another team to take it off their hands today?)

Old white sportswriter frightened and confused by uppity Negro’s so-called “rap” music

[ 30 ] May 5, 2012 |

jay z


The wit and wisdom of Phil Mushnick:

As long as the Nets are allowing Jay-Z to call their marketing shots — what a shock that he chose black and white as the new team colors to stress, as the Nets explained, their new “urban” home — why not have him apply the full Jay-Z treatment?

Why the Brooklyn Nets when they can be the New York N——s? The cheerleaders could be the Brooklyn B—-hes or Hoes. Team logo? A 9 mm with hollow-tip shell casings strewn beneath. Wanna be Jay-Z hip? Then go all the way!

Using the legal process to silence critics

[ 45 ] May 4, 2012 |

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School served me with a subpoena yesterday afternoon, commanding me to produce certain documents purportedly relevant to this civil action. The documents in question include all my communications with the defendants, and “all documents and communications . . . that you had or exchanged with any person regarding how (i) Thomas M. Cooley Law School reports its post graduation employment rates or (ii) your communications with David Anziska regarding any inquiry or investigation he discussed with you about how law schools report post-graduate employment and salary data.”

Now it so happens that this discovery request isn’t going to discover much. Read more…

The football suicides

[ 82 ] May 2, 2012 |


Earlier today Junior Seau became at least the sixth seventh former NFL player to commit suicide since 2005, joining Terry Long, Shane Dronett, Dave Duerson, Andre Waters, Kenny McKinley, and Ray Easterling. (A side note: one in every six members of the 1994 San Diego Chargers Super Bowl team has now died — two in car “accidents.” The quotation marks reference the fact that Seau drove off a cliff two years ago in what at the time he denied was a suicide attempt).

In regard to this subject, Malcolm Gladwell’s 2009 New Yorker piece on football and brain injuries is essential reading. Duerson suffered so severely from the aftereffects of the concussive shocks to which the game subjected him that he donated his brain to science.

Because Seau was one of the greatest players of his generation his death is likely to throw particularly intense light on the darkest side of America’s favorite sport.

The world needs gay ditch diggers too

[ 93 ] May 2, 2012 |

Pastor Sean Harris of the Berean Baptist Church in Fayettesville North Carolina:

So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, ‘Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,’ you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed.Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male. And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you reign her in. And you say, ‘Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.’

Odds that this guy eventually gets caught hiking the Appalachian trail in the wrong company?

Clueless baby boomer judge orders poor lawyers to subsidize rich ones

[ 48 ] May 2, 2012 |

That’s one functional economic effect of New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s announcement yesterday that New York will become the first state to require bar applicants to donate 50 hours of legal services before they can be admitted. Lippman’s initiative is so utterly wrongheaded on so many levels that it’s tempting to reply to it with exasperated silence than to even begin to point out why. But for the public good: Read more…

The luckiest man who ever lived

[ 40 ] April 28, 2012 |


My brother was at the Cincinnati Reds’ game this afternoon, sitting a few rows up in the stands on the first base side. A ball was fouled off, and it bounced on one hop to a guy about five rows in front of him. On the very next pitch, the ball was fouled off again, and the same guy caught it.

OK somebody calculate the odds of this. Assume there are 250 pitches in a game, 5% of which result in balls going into the stands . . .

Seriously I bet this has never happened before.

BTW my brother a published a book this week, which those of you interested in Latin American history or drug policy or getting high would find very interesting.

No one has any money

[ 55 ] April 28, 2012 |

Joe Nocera is broke. Well, not broke exactly — he’s got a very nice job that pays the bills, but he’s broke in the sense that if he lost his job he wouldn’t have any money, even though he’s nearing what will soon come to be thought of as the anachronistic concept of “retirement age.” Why does Nocera, a very successful journalist and author, not have any money?

Like millions of other aging baby boomers, I first began putting money into a tax-deferred retirement account a few years after they were legislated into existence in the late 1970s. The great bull market, which began in 1982, was just gearing up. As a young journalist, I couldn’t afford to invest a lot of money, but my account grew as the market rose, and the bull market gave me an inflated sense of my investing skills.

I became such an enthusiast of the new investing culture that I wrote my first book, in the mid-1990s, about what I called “the democratization of money.” It was only right, I argued, that the little guy have the same access to the markets as the wealthy. In the book, I didn’t make much of the decline of pensions. After all, we were in the middle of the tech bubble by then. What fun!

The bull market ended with the bursting of that bubble in 2000. My tech-laden portfolio was cut in half. A half-dozen years later, I got divorced, cutting my 401(k) in half again. A few years after that, I bought a house that needed some costly renovations. Since my retirement account was now hopelessly inadequate for actual retirement, I reasoned that I might as well get some use out of the money while I could. So I threw another chunk of my 401(k) at the renovation. That’s where I stand today.

Nocera’s story is unusual only in that, as he points out, he has a job he loves that requires no heavy lifting and that he can keep doing until he drops. The vast majority of his generational cohort isn’t so lucky:

Only 22 percent of workers 55 or older have more than $250,000 put away for retirement. Stunningly, 60 percent of workers in that same age bracket have less than $100,000 in a retirement account. . . the average savings for someone near retirement in America right now is $100,000. Even buttressed by Social Security, that’s not going to last very long.

How did we get into this mess? Part of the explanation is that traditional defined benefit pension plans have been replaced by defined contribution plans, which depend on using tax incentives to get workers to save for retirement, with, in theory, matching contributions from their employers. The problem is that people, or at least people in contemporary America, find it difficult to save lots of money for the day they can no longer work. Why? One reason is that stuff happens: people lose jobs, suffer health crises that require pouring their savings into The Best Health Care System in the World, and get divorced.

Another reason is that, due to “the predictable effects of widely shared cognitive limitations” (this is the polite academic way of pointing out that human beings are basically idiots) we’re not very good at saving and investing in general:

When I related my tale recently to Teresa Ghilarducci, a behavioral economist at The New School who studies retirement and investor behavior, she let out the kind of sigh that made it clear that she had heard it all before . . . most human beings lack the skill and emotional wherewithal to be good investors. Linking investing and retirement has turned out to be a recipe for disaster.

“People tend to be overconfident about their own abilities,” said Ghilarducci. “They tend to focus on the short term rather than thinking about long-term consequences. And they tend to think that whatever the current trend is will always be the trend. That is why people buy high and sell low.” Financial advisers — at least the good ones — are forever telling their clients to be disciplined, to create a diversified portfolio and to avoid trying to time the market. Sound as that advice is, it’s just not how most humans behave.

Now a key to understanding contemporary American politics is that it’s structured around either a continual denial of these unpleasant truths, or a perverse celebration of them. The Randroids and Hedge Fund Calvinists who run the contemporary Republican party (official slogan: Socialism Makes the Baby Jesus Cry) believe that if you’re broke it’s your own goddamned fault, while the neoliberal believers in capitalism with a human face who infest the Democratic establishment live in an intellectual fantasy theme park called FriedmanLand, where with just a little more “education” Americans will all become optimally thrifty software engineers.

What unites our rulers all across this vast ideological spectrum is their unshakeable belief that people should not be as they are.

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