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Elena Kagan, Barack Obama, and the American Establishment

[ 104 ] July 21, 2010 |

This article addresses what should be a puzzling question: Why did Barack Obama nominate Elena Kagan to the Supreme Court? Not only has Kagan never been a judge, but, far more problematically, she has over the course of a 25-year legal and political career taken almost no public positions on any significant legal or political questions. This latter fact would, at first glance, seem to disqualify her from consideration for a lifetime appointment to one of America’s most powerful political institutions. That it has not tells us a great deal about deep-seated cultural myths regarding the possibility of separating law from politics, and about the elite institutions that have molded Obama, Kagan, and so many other members of America’s contemporary legal, political, and economic establishment. Ultimately, in one sense Kagan remains, on the eve of her confirmation by the Senate, as much of a blank slate as ever. Yet in another we, like Barack Obama, can venture a good guess regarding what sort of Supreme Court justice she will make. That we can do so reflects both the cultural and ideological power wielded by the elite institutions that are producing the contemporary American establishment, and the relatively narrow range of political views those institutions generate among those who go on to become part of that establishment.

The Elena Kagan story, as presented by both the White House and her supporters throughout the legal world, is that of a brilliant academic and administrative career, whose trajectory has been ever-upward, until it has placed her on the doorstep of the Supreme Court a few months after her 50th birthday. This story is actually a serious oversimplification: Kagan has gotten to her present position despite a series of early career reversals, which culminated in the loss of her position on the University of Chicago faculty, and a brief period in which she was almost frantically scrambling for a job. Her rather abrupt transformation from a soon-to-be unemployed former law professor to dean of the Harvard Law School, and her subsequent ambiguous track record in that position, is a tale that reveals academic politics at their most byzantine. The real story, in other words, is more interesting than the narrative being put forth for public consumption. In some ways it makes Kagan a more attractive figure than the almost robotic paragon of flawless professional advancement concocted by the public relations machine. Over the last few weeks I’ve spoken to a number of former colleagues of Kagan’s in Chicago, Washington, and Cambridge. On the basis of those conversations, as well as the public record, the following story emerges.*

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Tom Friedman wrote a good column

[ 11 ] July 18, 2010 |

Since I’ve said several mean things about him over the years, which I’m sure has kept him up at night, wandering the halls of his wife’s 30,000 sq ft mansion, justice requires it be noted that this is a good column.


[ 12 ] July 16, 2010 |


Since the Village is essentially a Republican town perhaps they assumed that liberals were all going to be the same dead-enders the Bush cultists were, defending their man until the day he was out of office (and then insisting they never liked him in the first place.) That’s what “little people” (and paid political hacks) are supposed to do.

In related news, Goldman Sachs agrees to pay a fine equal to 3% of its 2009 profits for its part in wrecking the world’s economy.

America’s laziest op-ed columnist

[ 23 ] July 14, 2010 |

Tom Friedman:

This whole spy story has the feel of one of those senior tennis tournaments — John McEnroe against Jimmy Connors, long after their primes — or maybe a rematch between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston in their 60s. You almost want to avert your eyes.

Sonny Liston died (under mysterious circumstances) at the age of 38 to 42. Now this might seem like a trivial, pedantic point, and indeed it is, except in it’s own small way it illustrates a couple of things about Friedman:

(1) He’s a terrible writer.

(2) He’s lazy as hell. He writes the same column over and over, flaunting his faux-expertise on a huge range of topics, and he (or his “research assistant”) can’t be bothered to spend five minutes on teh google to check a 700-word column for factual howlers that reveal he doesn’t know the second thing about the subjects he’s employing for metaphorical fodder, let alone the ones on which he’s opining.

A Chinatown world

[ 3 ] July 12, 2010 |

Three apparently unrelated news stories:

(1) Several hundred fans with tickets to the Spain-Germany semi-final missed the game because FIFA contrived to allow the private jets of what in 18th century England was known as the Quality to land at their owners’ convenience.

(2) The government of South Africa will lose billions on the World Cup, in a country where half the population lives under the (extremely low) international poverty line.

(3) The Swiss government has decided not to extradite a child rapist and fugitive from justice with lots of influential friends.

The Kagan farce

[ 5 ] June 30, 2010 |

The ritual of the Kagan hearings makes for a disgusting spectacle, but hey, Bismark, sausage, whatever.

Landon Donovan: A Musical Tribute

[ 7 ] June 23, 2010 |


All apologies

[ 4 ] June 17, 2010 |

Joe Barton’s apology to BP (which he retracted after being told by the GOP leadership that if he didn’t he would lose his committee position) indicates the extent to which politicians in states like Texas are in pocket of the oil industry. Someone like Barton is so completely bought and paid for that he can’t even remember that there’s an actual limit to the willingness of at least the national GOP to serve the interests of Big Oil (apparently that limit is reached when a foreign corporation’s negligence threatens to destroy the entire Gulf of Mexico).

Hitler’s take on the vuvuzela

[ 4 ] June 17, 2010 |

Medium rare futbol blogging

[ 8 ] June 7, 2010 |

Mildly amusing exchange of emails between U.S. and UK ambassadors, in re one of those silly sporting bets that politicos make every time the Battle of Waterloo is about to be won on the playing fields of Eton. If England defeats the US the American ambassador must purchase a steak in a tony DC establishment for his Brit counterpart, leading to this bon mot from the redcoats:

Incidentally, you should know that the Ambassador takes his steak like American soccer victories – somewhat rare.

A friend of mine notes that the response should have been that, in that case, he would find his steak resembles English national team soccer players: expensive and overrated.

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Having your wealth and health and wife and kids restored by God is for closers

[ 13 ] May 28, 2010 |

Rarely has there ever been a greater need to emphasize, in this confusing cyberworld of ours, that this is not a joke.

Be sure not to miss the FAQ page.

Stephen’s wiki page is also full of inspiring tales of a man’s ability to overcome adversity.

Baldwin has a tattoo on his left shoulder of the initials “HM” for Hannah Montana. He got the tattoo after making a pact with Miley Cyrus that he would be allowed to cameo on the show if he had the initials tattooed on him. He revealed the tattoo to Cyrus at a book signing in Nashville, on November 10, 2008.[18] To date he has never appeared on the show. He has since gone on record as saying that he regrets getting the tattoo[19]

The Worst Movie of All Time?

[ 119 ] May 27, 2010 |

My friend JJ is an aficionado of bad films, or rather bad films of a certain type. He’s not interested in uber-low-budget absurdities of the Plan 9 From Outer Space sort — for him, a bad film can only be amusing when

(1) It’s a major studio product with a production budget in at least the eight figures; and

(2) It’s supposed to appeal to actual adults.

The second stipulation is obviously fuzzier than the first, but it would seem to clearly rule out Adam Sandler fart comedies and other material aimed at 12-year-olds, while leaving room for things like Sex and the City 2.


Consider the film’s painful climax, in which Samantha, now wearing shorts and a low-cut top, spills dozens of condoms from her purse in the middle of a crowded market. Right before the condom explosion, the Islamic call to prayer, the Adhan, is conveniently heard for no discernible reason. The angry, hairy men, overwhelmed by anger and shock, decide to abandon their daily activities and busy life to encircle Samantha and condemn her as a harlot and slut, but not before Samantha proudly holds the condoms up high and dry humps the air telling the men she uses them to have sex. Because they cannot tolerate a sassy, back-talking, condom-using female baring her legs, they decide en masse to spontaneously chase all four women. Appearing like an oasis in the desert, two mysterious women in a burqa silently nod to the four girls, who subsequently follow the women into a secret room revealing the existence of a secret book club attended by a dozen niqabi women, who disrobe to reveal their hidden designer clothes, fashionable shoes and makeup.

For more than a decade now, Twister has been at the top of JJ’s list. But he’s going to be in the theater this weekend with his wife (both are actually fans of the Sex and the City HBO series, as am I), and his expectations are high.

“I”m really getting excited about this movie,” he tells me. “This could be the one.”

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