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Heckuva Job!

[ 111 ] August 27, 2015 |


Shorter Michael Brown: If I learned anything at Oklahoma City University School of Law or that Arabian horse association I left in a hail of lawsuits, it’s that as long as you don’t bear sole responsibility for something you bear no responsibility for something. Also, my plan to provide resources based on what I hoped state and local officials would do rather than what they did was brilliant.


The Politics of Firearm Violence

[ 95 ] August 27, 2015 |

As you may have seen yesterday, I have a longer argument about admonitions that firearm violence shouldn’t be “politicized.”

Today In Hatchet Jobs, Which I Mean in the Best Sense

[ 97 ] August 27, 2015 |


In an all-too-appropriate match of author and subject, Niall Ferguson has written a biography of Henry Kissinger. It is apparently exactly as good as one would expect:

The subtitle of this volume gives some indication of what Ferguson is missing in his psychoanalysis of Kissinger’s critics: The Idealist. The author’s revisionist thesis is that Kissinger was not in fact a realist, as he is so frequently portrayed. Hence Ferguson provides lofty epigrams from his subject to begin his chapters, such as this one: “It is true that ours is an attempt to exhibit Western values, but less by what we say than by what we do.” He shows us Kissinger moralizing against the use of “small countries as pawns” in the game of global strategy. Ferguson even quotes Kissinger privately scolding the Kennedy administration (those “unscrupulous pragmatists”) for tacitly authorizing the assassination of South Vietnam’s Ngo Dinh Diem: “The honor and the moral standing of the United States require that a relationship exists between ends and means.… Our historical role has been to identify ourselves with the ideals and deepest hopes of mankind.”

Horseshit. By reproducing these quotations with a straight face, Ferguson has made himself a hypocrite’s bullhorn. The ideals and deepest hopes of mankind? Kissinger and Nixon bombed Cambodia to pieces in a secret four-year campaign that annihilated some 100,000 civilians. “Anything that flies, on anything that moves,” were the parameters Kissinger gave to Alexander Haig. He countered African liberation movements by embracing the white supremacists of Rhodesia and South Africa, a policy known as the “Tar Baby option.” Kissinger facilitated the overthrow of the governments of Chile and Argentina by right-wing generals, and then worked tirelessly to deflect criticism of the new governments’ torture and murder. A declassified memorandum of his meeting with Augusto Pinochet in 1976 shows Kissinger in a particularly unflattering light: “We welcomed the overthrow of the Communist-inclined government here. We are not out to weaken your position.” In 1975 Kissinger and President Ford met with Indonesian strongman Suharto and authorized him to invade East Timor, which he promptly did the following day; another 100,000 lost their lives. “It is important that whatever you do succeeds quickly,” Kissinger advised.

Henry Kissinger is entitled to a defense, but outfitting him in the white robes of idealism is not the way to go about it.

Firearm Violence Is Inherently Political

[ 320 ] August 26, 2015 |


I assume you’ve heard about the on-camera killing of a Virginia reporter and her cameraman this morning.

Supporters of the USA’s unusual and very bad gun control policies will inevitably tell us not to “politicize” the shooting. But firearm violence in the United States is inherently political. The are means, common in many other countries, that would almost certainly cause a substantial reduction in firearm deaths, both homicides and suicides. Continuing to do nothing in the face of this scale of unnecessary death is political. Some things should be politicized.

UPDATE: Longer version of the argument here.

On the Ashley Madison Hack

[ 312 ] August 26, 2015 |


Heather Havrilesky is very much making sense:

And while the biggest hacks to receive attention lately — the Sony hack, the Fappening’s nude-celebrity-photo link, and Ashley Madison — may have targeted groups that are easily held at a distance, that won’t always be the case. Where’s the real harm in exposing the pubic-hair-dye kit purchased by a wealthy executive, or outing a cheating married man? we might ask ourselves. But it’s only a matter of time before regular mortals who don’t think they’ve sinned at all, beyond harshly criticizing their bosses or lamenting their meddling mothers-in-law, are exposed along with the easier targets. While the Ashley Madison hackers have set their sights on punishing cheaters, domestic or foreign extremists could resolve to punish anyone purchasing the wrong sorts of books, anyone listening to the wrong kinds of music, anyone of the wrong race or religion. Cackling when the mob goes after someone whose behavior seems suspect to you is one thing. It will be harder to laugh along when a different kind of mob decides that your sex-toy purchases, that N.W.A album you bought on iTunes, or those jokes you made about stockpiling plastic explosives in a private email make you a worthy target.

The Ashley Madison hack can’t be examined in a vacuum, because the long-term, widespread implications of how this hack is handled are enormous. Not only should we be asking just how good a job corporations, businesses, and the government are doing at keeping our information safe (answer: not so good, in fact), we should be vigorously fighting the ignorant attitude that transparency makes us better people, which is naïve to the point of being depressing. The root issue is simple: When the public is patrolled by a mob, the consequences are dire for everyone involved.

Likewise, those who blithely state “privacy is dead” as if they have no skin in the game, as if merely shrugging and accepting that we no longer have any rights as individuals, may be the most disheartening of all. Are we ready to agree that we, as citizens, have no recourse, that it’s perfectly natural that criminals and the corporate entities that fail to protect us from them would mishandle our assets and expose us all to fraud and identity theft and public attacks? Do we want our public servants targeting citizens by using information gained through criminal means?

See also Greenwald.

I know this is pointless swimming against the tide, but I would actually go farther than Amanda and Erik: I don’t think that information obtained from the hack should be publicized by the media, period. I think this is true even in cases like Duggar, where the behavior would be newsworthy enough to be worth reporting if knowledge of it wasn’t obtained by illegal and privacy-threatening means.

I would also reiterate that even when hypocrisy is arguably newsworthy isn’t not really a very big deal. Josh Duggar’s patriarchal views of marriage and attempts to negatively influence public policy through lobbying and his reality show wouldn’t be any better if he adhered to his stated principles more consistently. And let’s be frank: most of the time even when publicly relevant hypocrisy is present, it’s more an excuse than a reason. Media oulets might have started their Ashley Madison stories with Duggar, but soon enough they will move on to not-even-really-celebrities with no influence on public policy and only the most tenuous hypocrisy angle. At bottom, people are mostly in it for the thigh-rubbing even when there’s a colorable argument that the behavior revealed by a hack is newsworthy.

…and as MDrew observes in consequences, the effects of the hack on ordinary people can be horrible.

American Grift

[ 86 ] August 26, 2015 |

In this instance, victims get further victimized.

Is Biden Running A Good Idea? (SPOILER: No.)

[ 278 ] August 25, 2015 |


I’m guessing — hoping? — that the Joe Biden rumors are more slow-news-month smoke than fire. I do know that the idea still doesn’t make any sense.

First, as Tomasky notes, between the lack of a policy rationale and the late entry the primary effect of Biden mounting a primary campaign would be to amplify media narratives that the Clinton campaign is floundering, the email faux-scandal is a thing, etc. A late-entry vanity campaign would be much worse than if he entered the race on a normal timetable.

In fairness, as Jamelle Bouie points out, Biden does have a potential policy rationale:

In 1984, he worked with Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond and the Reagan administration to craft and pass the Comprehensive Control Act, which enhanced and expanded civil asset forfeiture, and entitled local police departments to a share of captured assets. Critics say this incentivizes abuse, citing countless cases of unfair and unaccountable seizures. In one case last February, Drug Enforcement Administration officers seized $11,000 in cash from a 24-year-old college student. They didn’t find guns or drugs, but they kept the money anyway.

In 1986, Biden co-sponsored the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created new mandatory minimum sentences for drugs, including the infamous crack-versus-cocaine sentencing disparity. A crack cocaine user with only five grams would receive five years without parole, while a powder cocaine user had to possess 500 grams before seeing the same punishment. The predictable consequence was a federal drug regime that put its toughest penalties on low-level drug sellers and the most impoverished drug users.

Biden would also play an important role in crafting the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which strengthened mandatory minimums for drug possession, enhanced penalties for people who transport drugs, and established the Office of National Drug Control Policy, whose director was christened “drug czar” by Biden.

His broadest contribution to crime policy was the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, commonly called the 1994 Crime Bill. Written by Biden and signed by President Clinton, it increased funds for police and prisons, fueling a huge expansion of the federal prison population. As journalist Radley Balko details in The Rise of The Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, it also contributed to the rapid growth of militarized police forces that used new federal funds to purchase hundreds of thousands of pieces of military equipment, from flak jackets and automatic rifles to armored vehicles and grenade launchers.

The “crime bill” also brought a host of new federal death penalty crimes, which Biden celebrated in his defense of the bill. “Let me define the liberal wing of the Democratic Party,” he said to Sen. Orrin Hatch, “The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is now for 60 new death penalties … the liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 100,000 cops. The liberal wing of the Democratic Party is for 125,000 new state prison cells.”


Joe Biden, in other words, is the Democratic face of the drug war.

Yeah, that seems like a great idea in 2016.

As Bouie says, a Biden run would substantially tarnish his legacy, and while he wouldn’t win he could tarnish the Democratic nominee in the way that other rival campaigns wouldn’t. It’s a terrible idea.

Trigger Warnings — What Am I Supposed to be Upset About Exactly?

[ 256 ] August 25, 2015 |

For whatever reason, whenever when of those overheated articles about campus p.c. and mollycoddled students appears, a mention of trigger warnings and the alleged inability of students to deal with any uncomfortable material are very likely to show up. As Aaron Hanlon points out, this doesn’t make any sense:

As I’ve explained elsewhere, however, I use trigger warnings in the classroom as a way of preparing students who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder while also easing the entire class into a discussion of the material. The thinking behind the idea that trigger warnings are a form of censorship is fundamentally illogical: those who offer warnings, at our professional discretion, about potentially triggering material are doing so precisely because we’re about to teach it! If we used trigger warnings to say, effectively, “don’t read this, it’s scary,” then there’d be no need to warn in the first place; we’d just leave the material off the syllabus.

It’s true that giving a warning runs the risk of students avoiding or disengaging with the material out of fear of being triggered (in my three years of teaching, students have come to office hours to discuss sensitive material, but not one has left class or failed to turn in an assignment because of a trigger warning). If a student disengages, however, a professor still can (and should) follow up in a couple of ways. One is to have a private conversation with the student about the material, away from the pressures of the classroom; another is to take the student’s response as an occasion to check in with the student and make sure they have access to campus mental health resources. Few of the media voices catastrophizing trigger warnings seem to understand that professors’ interactions with students in the classroom and during office hours are some of the most important ways of catching mental health (or time management, or substance abuse) issues in our students that may need further attention. While the purpose of trigger warnings is not to screen for mental health problems, being attuned to how students are reacting to material, and prompting them to react to the hard stuff, can help us catch problems before they become real catastrophes.

For those of you who are imagining scores of students using professors’ trigger warnings disingenuously, as a way to get out of class or a reading assignment, this isn’t (for most of us) our first rodeo. Students use deception all the time, but an office hours summons is really all we need to determine whether the student might need help from a mental health professional, or was just trying to game the system. In most cases, however, when you warn students that something might be emotionally challenging or explicit, most of them do exactly what we do when someone tells us to watch out for something lurid: they become even more curious.

Yes, precisely. Trigger warnings are a means of teaching potentially difficult material, not a means of censoring potentially difficult material. I suppose there may be cases in which trigger warnings on a syllabus can be used by students as an all-purpose excuse not to engage, but that’s not a problem with “trigger warnings” per se. There’s nothing inherently censorious about them at all.

I, personally, don’t use trigger warnings on my syllabus — but if it works for instructors and their classes and students, fine with me. We don’t use them on this blog, but if they’re a felt need to another kind of blogging community — fine with me. Unless they’re imposed as a one-size-fits-all solution — and as Hanlon says, this is vanishingly rare — I don’t understand what’s supposed to be objectionable.

Salads Are Overrated If You Ignore Most Salads

[ 73 ] August 25, 2015 |

355430Above: A salad.  Nutritous.

This is a very strange argument:

There’s one food, though, that has almost nothing going for it. It occupies precious crop acreage, requires fossil fuels to be shipped, refrigerated, around the world, and adds nothing but crunch to the plate.

It’s salad, and here are three main reasons why we need to rethink it.

Salad vegetables are pitifully low in nutrition. The biggest thing wrong with salads is lettuce, and the biggest thing wrong with lettuce is that it’s a leafy-green waste of resources.

I concede the point — if you arbitrarily limit your definition of “salad vegetables” to “vegetables that aren’t very nutritious,” then salad “has nothing going for it.” A diner salad consisting of iceberg lettuce and cucumbers covered in Kraft French dressing is indeed pretty much empty calories.

But why the hell would you limit the definition of “salad” to this? Salads that use a base of spinach, kale, field greens, cabbage and carrots — very nutritious! Many other ingredients you could add to this — tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, artichokes, hearts of palm — also more nutritious than iceberg lettuce! Many or all of these ingredients are almost certainly available in your plain vanilla local supermarket.  Combine decent olive oil, some combination of vinegar and lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt, and your favorite herb and you have a good dressing. Most salads are nutritious and tasty as both main courses and side dishes.

Saying that salads are bad because one particular salad isn’t very nutritious makes exactly as much sense as saying that since iceberg lettuce isn’t very nutritious vegetables are massively overrated.

In fairness, point #2 is much more sound: the word “salad” on a chain restaurant menu often entails a dish with not more more in nutrients and more calories than a burger and fries. But the framing of the article is deeply strange.


[ 82 ] August 24, 2015 |

Shorter Republican Party: Anti-immigration policies cannot fail, they can only be failed.

Hammer the Ginger Hammer

[ 106 ] August 24, 2015 |


Joe Thomas is the latest player to go after the NFL’s reprehensible commissioner over Ballghazi:

Joe Thomas does not think the punishment fits the crime in the Deflategate saga.

“I would equate what [Tom Brady] did to driving 66 [mph] in a 65 speed zone, and getting the death penalty,” Thomas said Sunday after the Cleveland Browns’ training camp practice.

Cleveland Browns All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas further expounded on his distaste on how Roger Goodell is handling the Tom Brady “DeflateGate” case.

The Pro Bowl left tackle said Brady does not even deserve to be fined, but added that what Goodell is doing is “brilliant.”

“I’m not sure if he realizes what he’s doing is brilliant, but what he’s doing is brilliant because he’s made the NFL relevant 365 [days] by having these outrageous, ridiculous witch hunts,” Thomas said. “It’s made the game more popular than ever and it’s become so much more of an entertainment business and it’s making so much money.

Following Antonio Cromartie and (a little more ambiguously) the incomparable Richard Sherman, I wonder if Goodell has abused his authority enough to arouse the NFLPA from its typical quiescent slumber. For Goodell to uphold his own ruling imposing a massively disproportionate punishment for an offense absolutely nobody considered important ex ante despite a notable lack of evidence that the trivial violation even occurred is so substantively and procedurally indefensible that players have to be noticing that they could all be arbitrarily singled out for huge fines and career interruptions for no particular reason. This should be a major issue in the next round of negotiations.

Indeed, Goodell’s case is such a joke that you have to wonder if the NFL will be permitted to impose the suspension at all, despite the weak protections in the CBA. The rough ride the NFL has gotten even in their judicial venue of choice makes it increasingly unlikely that Brady will be out of the lineup opening day.

Bill Kristol Is Making Sense

[ 113 ] August 23, 2015 |

Hey, when he’s right, he’s right!

Are we sure the GOP isn’t on course to nominating their very own Dukakis? Are we confident one of the current field is up to the job of winning—and governing?

No. No we certainly are not.

Now, from this rare accurate insight certainly proceeds some silliness. Some of his suggested alternatives:

Mitch Daniels was probably the most successful Republican governor of recent times, with federal executive experience to boot.

The idea of Mitch Daniels’s charisma parade entering the Republican race gives me a feeling of helpless fear.

Paul Ryan is the intellectual leader of Republicans in the House of Representatives, with national campaign experience.

Sadly, I think he means the former as a compliment and the latter as something other than disqualifying. Wrong, and wrong again.

The House also features young but tested leaders like Jim Jordan, Trey Gowdy and Mike Pompeo.

“Tested” doesn’t help much given the “failed.” Also, seriously, Trey Gowdy? [Insert Banghazi acrostic here.]

But all this is a sideshow. I present to you know the most correct thing that Bill Kristol will ever write:

And there are distinguished conservative leaders from outside politics; Justice Samuel Alito…

Let me be clear: I cannot possibly endorse this more strongly. Alito should run. He should be the nominee. The discussion should be over. And needless to say the ticket should be balanced with the nation’s most prominent African-American conservative. ALITO/THOMAS ’16! Make it happen.


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