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Let Us Remember the Most Important Part of the Story: He Didn’t Smoke Pot

[ 118 ] September 8, 2014 |

What merits a two-game suspension to from the NFL.  But, as the team would still remind us, this kind of thing entails mutual responsibility: for one person to punch someone in the face requires another person to be punched in the face, so really everyone has a role in the “incident.”

Relatedly, some classic Peter King hackery. 

…to be fair and balanced, it must be noted that we have no evidence that Ray Rice ever committed a real offense of seriousness like selling his NCAA jerseys, threatening the country’s most precious resource, its Noble Ideals of Amateurism.


There are three possible explanations here. The first is that every single reporter who said the NFL had seen the video was lying. This seems unlikely, since they were all telling the same lie, both for public consumption and in their off-the-record talks with us.

The second is that the NFL was lying to all of the top football reporters back then about having seen the video, in some attempt to smear Janay Palmer.

The third is that the NFL is lying now about not having seen the video—that league officials saw what everyone has now seen, for whatever reason actually found it exculpatory, and are now making false claims to protect the league’s image. This interpretation is supported by an employee of the Revel, the Atlantic City casino where the fight took place. He tells TMZ that the NFL saw the footage before disciplining Rice.

Whatever the case, it’s almost certain that the NFL lied at some stage here, and that the league played a handful of its most loyal reporters in the process, suborning them into a smear campaign against a victim of domestic violence.


The Mixed Legacy of Joan Rivers

[ 64 ] September 7, 2014 |

Really good piece. 

2014 NFL II: The NFC

[ 56 ] September 7, 2014 |

NFC East 1. Phi 2. NYG 3. Wsh 4. Dal  This is an easy division to pick, even though it seems pretty unlikely that Nick Foles is the QB he appeared to be in the stats last year (and the criteria for picking his backups appears to be 1)played at USC and 2)shitty.)  Nonetheless, with a first-rate coach the offense will survive a little regression and the loss of Jackson.  And the rest of the division is hideous.  I don’t disagree with Barnwell that Eli is due for some bounceback.  But what Barnwell — who has something of a blind spot about his team’s QB — is leaving out is that Rivers has always been a better QB than Eli, and even at his best Manning was never remotely as good as Rivers was last year.  (Yes, yes, I know, 2-time Super Bowl MVP.  Only 1)nobody really thinks Manning was more valuable than Tuck or Strahan in the first game, and 2)yes, if only Rivers and Marty Schottenheimer hadn’t conspired to force Marlon McRee to return what would have been a game-ending interception then they’d be clutch.  I wouldn’t bet that Eli will even be average this year, and their defense is likely to regress too.   And yet…the Redskins are a dysfunctional organization with an unproven, unimpressively credentialed coach, and it’s hard to know both if RGIII can stay healthy and what his skills are at this point if he does.  (Look for many HOT TAKES arguing that Kirk Cousins and his 5% interception rate and fumble per game deserve the job, which will not go well if it happens.)  The downside potential for the Cowboys is massive.  First of all, you’re taking 39 games of Ware, Lee and Hatcher away from what was already an atrocious defense.  I don’t want to dis Tony Romo, who has become a poster boy for the syndrome of unfairly blaming your team’s best players for its failures.  But he’s 34 and he gets hurt a lot, and if he has an Eli-like decline in performance or gets hurt this team could lose 14 games.

NFC North 1. GB 2. Chi(*) 3. Min 4. Det  On the other hand, every team in this division is vaguely credible — any of the 4 would be contenders in the east.  Of the two offense-first quality teams, I’ll take the one with Aaron Rodgers over the one with Jay Cutler, thanks.  (Also, while Jeffrey is very good whether he’s as good as he looked last year is an open question; he;s one year removed from 24 catches in 10 games, after all.)  My defense of Marvin Lewis shouldn’t be construed as a knock on Mike Zimmer; he’s an excellent coaching prospect, and while you never know where a top coordinator will fall on the LeBeau-to-Belichick head coaching spectrum until you give them the job he has talent to work here and should improve on what was the 27th best defense in the league.  Either Cassel will be good or what I’d bet is the best QB in the 2014 draft class will take over, with Cordarrelle Patterson and the one running back you can count on to be really good to work with. The Lions also have talent, of course. I might pick them as a wildcard if they had hired Smith or Zimmer, but Caldwell was a very strange hire, and while they’re capable of winning double digits the FO projections have them last in the division and I see no reason to disagree.

NFC South 1. NO 2. ATL 3. TB 4. CAR The Saints are one of the 3 or 4 strongest teams in the conference, although their defense might regress a but this year. I have no idea what to make of the Falcons, but Barnwell is pretty convincing that they can be expected to be more 2012 than 2013, although with that defense I don’t see them winning on the road in the playoffs even if they squeak in. There is some reason for optimism in Tampa Bay; not only getting rid of Greg Schiano but adding a coach who took Rex Grossman to the Super Bowl should be worth several wins in itself, and they have more talent than their record last year reflects. I wouldn’t be shocked to see them in the playoffs, but I think they’ll have to find the right QB after McCown turns into a pumpkin. Everyone thinks the Panthers will regress and I’m going chalk; Newton has been given nothing to work with and they don’t even have Newton to start the season.

NFC West 1. SEA 2. SF(*) 3. STL 4. ARI Amidst the discussion of alleged officiating changes, some people — morons, strategic whiners — seemed to be arguing that it was lax officiating that made the Seahawks defense look so good. This isn’t true, and with Harvin healthy this remains the best team in the NFL (although, as we recently discussed, Denver is probably the single team most likely to win the Super Bowl because their path is so much easier.) The injuries and suspensions afflicting the 49er defense are real but the effect has been overblown. It will make it hard for them to win the division, but they remain an outstanding team. I especially like the depth they’ve added at wideout, important in a division with Sherman, Peterson, and the Rams pass rush. On the two defenses-in-search-of-a-QB I’ll stay with the numbers and pick the Rams ahead of the Cards.

The NFL 2014 1: The AFC

[ 67 ] September 7, 2014 |

AFC East: 1. NE 2. MIA 3. NYJ 4. BUF Personnel Person Bill Belichick has finally given Coach Bill Belichick some talent to work with in the secondary, and if Revis stays healthy this will be the best Patriots defense in many a moon. The supporting cast of a declining Brady has been improved as well, although it remains second-rate for the 13 games Gronkowski isn’t on the field. So they’re clearly the class of the division. A lot of analytical types seem to like the Dolphins for the wildcard. I still see team that needed to beat one of two pretty bad teams with nothing to play for and were outscored 39-7, so I’ll believe it when I see it. One of those were the Jets, who weren’t as good as their 8-8 record. Their offense should be improved. Eric Decker is like the Mariners getting Austin Jackson; freed in the Cato sense from Peyton Manning he’s not going to be great, but he’s a massive upgrade on Stephen Hill. But the Jets, with plenty of cap space to work with and plenty of good corners available, because of the injury to Millner are starting the year with a secondary consisting of “some guys Rex Ryan just met at a Hooters,” all of whom are better than Kyle Wilson. Their front 7 is good and Ryan is good, but not that good.  The Bills might not be the worst team in the league, but they may well have had the worst offseason. One of the best players from their excellent 2013 defense left, another is out from the year. They lost one of the league’s best defensive coordinators and replaced him with a guy whose team gave up 478 yards to a team in a massive blizzard. And the Sammy Watkins trade might actually be worse than the Browns’ Trent Richardson debacle. Sure, Watkins is a more valuable prospect ex ante than Richardson, and has to have more after-the-fact value virtually by definition. But two first rounders, when the second is likely to be a top 5? For a wideout on a team that probably doesn’t have an NFL QB? That’s crazy. It’s a sad situation.

AFC North: 1. CIN 2. BAL(*) 3. PIT 4. CLE Any of the top 3 could win the division. I think there is, to be frank, a hint of racism in the amount of credit the Bengals’ coordinators have gotten for the team’s success. Lewis was, after all, the most important coach on a Super Bowl champion that won with Trent Dilfer (the head coach was an offensive coach who never got another head coaching job,) and his record with the Bengals has been good. Their defense is still the best in the division, and while you can’t win a Super Bowl with Andy Dalton we know you can win a division with him. The Ravens are due for some bounceback. The Steelers still have the best QB in the division and you have to respect that. But the defense is in steep decline, and while it’s possible that Legendary Coordinator Dick LeBeau still has his fastball at 76, I note again in the second last game Tim Tebow started as an NFL QB he torched the Steelers for 316 yards and no picks. The next week, we went 9-26 against the league’s 28th-ranked pass defense, and although he was 24 and healthy now has a job getting Woody Paige’s coffee or something. The Browns have a better long-term prognosis than the Bills, and I like the Pettine hire, but with Gordon out the future won’t be this year.

AFC South: 1. HOU 2. IND 3. TEN 4. JAX A little contrarian. I like everything about the Texans except the QB, admittedly a major problem. The Colts are the opposite; the QB is going to the Hall of Fame if he stays healthy, but his supporting cast is what you’d expect from a team run by numbnuts who would trade a #1 pick for a replacement-level player at a position where a good player wouldn’t merit one. They could win again anyway, of course, but I think this year they’ll regress a bit and if the hits start catching up with Luck….I don’t see either the Titans or Jaguars having any real chance of competing in a weak division.

AFC West: 1. DEN 2. SD (*) 3. KC 4. OAK What can you say about the Broncos? The best team in the conference got better. The star is 38 and two years removed from a season-cancelling neck surgery that caused some numbnuts to wonder what his value would be going forward, but that’s the only real question. I’d pick the Chargers to win the Central South without hesitation. I’ll say more about Rivers when I get to the Giants, but I think his performance last year is for real, and the defense should be better. Everyone thinks the Chiefs will regress and I don’t disagree, but they’re certainly not bad. The Raiders are likely to have the worst record in the conference.

David Simon’s First Great Show

[ 109 ] September 7, 2014 |

Homicide is indeed massively underrated. It’s not as good as The Wire overall — particularly towards the end you can hear the network notes making the show not as good as it could be — but it might have had a better cast and at its best was phenomenally good for a broadcast network show.

A Hack Needs A Home

[ 41 ] September 6, 2014 |

Serial plagiarist and serial hack Benny Johnson has found a new job in what can charitably be called the field of journalism. Three guesses on his new employer and the first two don’t count!

“This Is Not A Done Deal”

[ 10 ] September 5, 2014 |

A reminder that as of now the offer to Salaita is still outstanding, and UIUC’s trustees can still do the right thing and honor their commitment. If you haven’t already, you can send a respectful email to the trustees at the addresses provided at Corey’s link. This is important in and if itself, and also important if you care about academic freedom because of the precedent it would set.

A Halbig Troofer’s Desperation Is An Entertaining Thing

[ 53 ] September 5, 2014 |

The architects of the Halbig litigation are very, very upset that the “political” D.C. Circuit would use its explicit authority under the phony-baloney so-called “Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure” to grant an en banc hearing and vacate the risible panel opinion. Their arguments may fail to persuade you:

Since that opinion made Bush v Gore look like a model of thoughtful jurisprudence, the Obama administration asked the full court to reconsider. It will, and their pending ruling is bad news for conservatives who want to preserve Americans’ precious freedom to die totally avoidable deaths because they lack health insurance.

“Today’s decision by the DC Circuit to grant en banc review of Halbig v. Burwell is unwise and unfortunate. It has the appearance of a political decision,” sniffed Michael Cannon of the conservative-libertarian Cato Institute. The chutzpah it takes for one of the architects of the case to accuse the judges who voted to re-hear it of being “political” is like the Atlantic Ocean accusing the creek running behind your house of having too much water.

Is Cannon shameless enough to resort to last year’s idiotic “Obama was ‘packing the court’ by nominating judges to existing vacancies and having Senate majorities confirm them” Republican talking point? You’ll have to click the link to find out!

Posner On the Obvious Unconstitutionality of Same-Sex Marriage Bans

[ 96 ] September 5, 2014 |

Charles has the juiciest excerpt from Richard Posner’s tour de force opinion holding the same-sex marriage bans in jurisdictions covered by 7CA unconstitutional. But it’s worth reading in its entirety. Here’s the bottom line:

Our pair of cases is rich in detail but ultimately straight-forward to decide. The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage  because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously. To the extent that children are better off in families in which the parents are married, they are better off whether they are raised by their biological parents or by adoptive parents. The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional even if the discrimination is not subjected to heightened scrutiny, which is why we can largely elide the more complex analysis found in more closely balanced equal-protection cases.

And given that sexual orientation isn’t really a rational basis category anymore but is subject to whatever it is you want to call what Anthony Kennedy is doing, the case is even easier.

I also really liked his point about how Indiana explicitly permits first cousins over the age of 65 to marry, giving away the show:

Indiana has thus invented an insidious form of discrimination: favoring first cousins, provided they are not of the same sex, over homosexuals. Elderly first cousins are permit-ted to marry because they can’t produce children; homosexuals are forbidden to marry because they can’t produce children. The state’s argument that a marriage of first cousins who are past child-bearing age provides a “model [of] family life for younger, potentially procreative men and women” is impossible to take seriously.

But, really, the whole thing is devastating. Reading it, I was reminded of poor Maggie Gallagher trying to defend same-sex marriage bans at Volokh nearly a decade ago. It’s not that she was leaving good arguments unsaid; it’s that there just aren’t any good arguments on behalf of her position. It’s just an empty tautology, and attempts to come up with a more rational-sounding defense instantly collapse on themselves.

Were Black People Disproportionately Harmed By Slavery? Views Differ!

[ 208 ] September 4, 2014 |

Shorter Verbatim some Economist hack, on The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism: “Unlike Mr Thomas, Mr Baptist has not written an objective history of slavery. Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains. This is not history; it is advocacy.”

Similarly, there were recent news accounts in which journalists are all victims, and ISIS terrorists all villains. Why can’t we get some fair-and-balanced reporting on this morally complex issue?

D.C. Circuit Vacates Embarrassing Opinion

[ 37 ] September 4, 2014 |


The D.C. Circuit will hear Halbig en banc, and in the order vacated this decade’s answer to Bush v. Gore.  Since the arguments for not hearing Halbig en banc were almost as terrible as the arguments made by the Halbig plurality itself, this is not exactly shocking.

Of course, there will be no particular urgency among ACA troofers to get the case before the Supreme Court, since I’m sure they’re confident that their arguments could persuade anyone who isn’t a fanatical ideological opponent of the Affordable Ca…sorry, I can’t even finish this sentence without laughing.

Strategic (Mis)Uses of Academic Freedom

[ 80 ] September 3, 2014 |

Liel Leibovitz has an extended defense of UIUC’s firing of Steven Salaita. Let’s start with this:

Another tweet applied just as much nuance in declaring, “Zionists: transforming ‘anti-semitism’ from something horrible into something honorable since 1948.” Subject that last utterance to a close reading—an exercise that passes for rigid and original thinking in most American universities these days—and you learn that the author approaches anti-Semitism with the one-two punch of unreality: It doesn’t exist—hence the quotation marks—and if it does exist then it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

Given the unoriginality of Leibovitz’s misreading, I would have let it slide had he not patted himself on the back for his “close reading” (while, paging SEK, criticizing people who think this is a real skill.) Even looked at in isolation, the “close reading” is somewhere between “uncharitable” and “inept.” The designation of anti-Semitism as “horrible” makes it pretty clear that Leibovitz is wrong to say that the quotation marks around “anti-Semitism” are an argument that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist. Rather, the most natural reading of the tweet is that conflating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism is cheapening the latter term, which describes a very real and very serious problem. I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say that this is the only possible reading of the words in isolation — we’re talking about a medium that limits communications to 140 characters, after all. But I would say that Leibovitz is not very well-positioned to be accusing others of lacking “nuance.” (As I’ve said before, I do agree that Salaita’s tweet wishing that the settlers would vanish is entirely indefensible, although to imply that it’s a literal incitement to violence is silly.)

And, of course, it’s worse than that. Since we’re not fanatical opponents of the ACA trying out any legal argument that might convince the right majority of hacks, we should not read the tweet in isolation but in the context of his other writings. Doing so makes it abundantly clear that while Salaita is a strong (and at times uncivil and even crackpottish) critic of Israel on his Twitter feed, he believes that anti-Semitism is both very real and very deplorable. And since Leibovitz has no actual evidence that Salaita is an anti-Semite, his “replacing references to Jews and Israelis with blacks, gays, or women” analogy is specious.

Let’s move on to the other bad argument at the core of the op-ed:

And it’s tempting, in analyzing this situation, to focus on its minor irritants and point out, for example, how deliciously ironic it is that the champions of academic freedom riding to Salaita’s defense did it by boycotting his university, a blunt tactic that, in this case, causes much more harm to the principle of academic freedom than the incident it wishes to protest.

I’m mystified by how scholars declining to make appearances at UIUC as a protest — the very minimalist boycott most of the disciplines are engaged in — damages academic freedom at all. Leibovitz doesn’t explain, and I’ve never heard of the idea that academic freedom requires accepting all speaking opportunities. (It seems obvious to me that cancelling appearances is itself a form of speech, not a suppression of speech.) There are certainly forms of boycott that could be inconsistent with academic freedom — blackballing UIUC scholars from conferences or publication, for example — but as far as I can tell nobody is advocating this.

Even if we were to assume that there’s an academic freedom problem with refusing to take UIUC’s speaking space and/or money, I’m really baffled how this could be more damaging to academic freedom than firing a tenured faculty member for expressing political views. (McCarthyism: no real threat to academic freedom, so long as the faculty willing to take loyalty oaths never turn down a speaking gig!) I think I can understand why there’s nothing but bare assertion on offer for this proposition.

Actually, there’s another reason why Leibovitz hasn’t thought very clearly about what the principles of academic freedom mean. Namely, he’s against them:

Some, of course, may argue that the answer is still yes, and that subject-matter expertise ought to be the single and sacred standard by which we hire, reward, and promote our professors. But many more believe, like Chancellor Wise, that while we ought to fiercely insist on protecting our scholars’ freedom to say whatever they please, we should also insist that speech, like action, have consequences. In some cases, we may listen to scholars speak out on unpopular subjects and reward them for their insight and their courage; in others, we may hear things so vile that we decide the speaker, no matter how well-versed in his or her discipline, has no place in an institution that depends on the unfettered exchange of ideas, and that scholars who cannot translate their passions into well-reasoned arguments are better off opining on Twitter rather than in the classroom.

Until academics live up to this obvious condition, until they realize that, like the rest of us, they operate in a community and enjoy no special license to speak and act with utter impunity, until they understand that public engagement is not a privilege but a responsibility, they will continue to find themselves marginalized. It’s a price that neither they nor we can afford to pay.

This argument is at least more honest than those of Wise, since she claims to support academic freedom in principle. The argument that firing faculty members solely for expressing disagreeable political views is perfectly OK is at least a real argument. (And remember that it’s wealthy and/or politically connected donors and trustees ultimately policing the bounds of acceptable discourse once the principles of academic freedom are abandoned.) If you think that Coke Stevenson’s Texas is as good a way of organizing a university as any other, that’s your privilege. I strongly disagree, but it’s good to have the stakes made clear.

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